Philip II ( ; ; ) (21 May
1527 – 13 September 1598) was King of
Spain (kingdoms of Castile,
Aragon and Navarra, this one disputed by the French)
and Portugal, Naples, Sicily,
and, while married to Mary I,
Queen of England and Ireland.
He was lord of the Seventeen Provinces
from 1556 until
1581, holding various titles for the individual territories, such
He ruled one of the world's largest
which included territories in every continent then
known to Europeans.
born in Valladolid, the son of Charles V of the Holy Roman
Empire (who also reigned as Charles I of Spain) and his consort
Isabella of Portugal.
During his reign, Spain
foremost Western European power. Under his rule, Spain reached the
height of its influence and power, directing explorations all
around the world and settling the colonization of territories in
all the known continents.
He was described by the Venetian ambassador Paolo Fagolo in 1563 as
"slight of stature and roundfaced, with pale blue eyes, somewhat
prominent lip, and pink skin, but his overall appearance is very
attractive." The Ambassador went on to say "He dresses very
tastefully, and everything that he does is courteous and
After living in the Netherlands in the early years of his reign,
Philip II returned to the peninsula in 1559 and never left it
again. Unlike his father, Charles V
, Philip was
culturally Spanish, a native speaker who chose to rule from Spain
rather than to travel constantly around his states. Although
sometimes described as an absolute monarch, Philip faced many
constitutional constraints on his authority.
Spain was not a single monarchy with one legal system but a
federation of separate realms, each jealously guarding its own
rights against those of the Crown of
. In practice, Philip often found his authority
overruled by local assemblies, and his word less effective than
that of local lords. The Kingdom of Aragon, where Philip was obliged to put down a rebellion
in 1591–92, was particularly unruly.
He also grappled with the problem of the large Morisco
population in Spain, forcibly converted to
Christianity by his predecessors. In 1569, the Morisco Revolt broke out in the southern
province of Granada in defiance of attempts to suppress Moorish
customs; and Philip ordered the expulsion of the Moriscos from
Granada and their dispersal to other provinces.
Portrait of Philip II in Armour.
"King of all the Spains", 1557.
Despite its immense dominions, Spain was a poor country with a
sparse population that yielded a limited income to the crown.
Philip faced major difficulties in raising taxes, the collection of
which was largely farmed out to local lords. He was able to finance
his military campaigns only by taxing and exploiting the local
resources of his empire. The flow of income from the New World
proved vital to his militant foreign
policy, but nonetheless his exchequer several times faced
Philip's reign saw a flourishing of cultural excellence in Spain,
the beginning of what is called the Golden Age
, creating a lasting
legacy in literature, music, and the visual arts.
Charles V had left Philip with a debt of about 36 million ducats
and an annual deficit of 1 million ducats.
Aside from reducing state revenues for overseas expeditions, the
domestic policies of Philip II further burdened Spain, and would,
in the following century, contribute to its decline.
subject to different assemblies: the Cortes in Castile along with the assembly in Navarre and three
for each of the three regions of Aragon, each of
which guarded their traditional rights and laws inherited when they
were separate kingdoms.
This made Spain and its possessions
difficult to rule, unlike France which, while divided by regional
states, had a single Estates-General
. The lack of a viable
supreme assembly would lead to power being concentrated in Philip's
hands, but this was made necessary by the constant conflict between
different authorities that required his direct intervention as the
final arbiter. To deal with the difficulties arising from this
situation authority was administered by local agents appointed by
the crown and viceroys carrying-out crown instructions. Philip felt
it necessary to be involved in the detail and presided over
specialized councils for state affairs, finance, war, and the
Inquisition. He played royal bureaucrats against each other,
leading to a system of checks and balances that managed affairs in
an inefficient manner, sometimes damaging state business, such as
the Perez affair
. Calls to move the
capital to Lisbon from the
Castilian stronghold of Madrid — the new
capital Philip established following the move from Valladolid — could have led to a degree of decentralization,
but Philip opposed such efforts.
Due to the inefficiencies
of the Spanish state, industry was overburdened by government
regulations, though this was common to many contemporary countries.
dispersal of the Moriscos from Granada - motivated
by the fear they might support a Muslim invasion - had serious
negative economic effects, particularly in that region.
throughout Europe in the
sixteenth century was a broad and complex phenomenon, with the
flood of bullion from the Americas arguably being the main cause of
it in Spain, along with population growth, and government spending.
Under Philip's reign, Spain saw a fivefold increase in prices. Due
to inflation and a high tax burden for Spanish manufacturers and
merchants, Spanish industry was harmed and much of Spain’s wealth
was spent on imported manufactured goods by an opulent,
status-oriented aristocracy and wars. Increasingly the country
became dependent on the revenues flowing in from the mercantile
empire in the Americas, leading to Spain's first bankruptcy
) in 1557 due to rising military
costs. Dependence on sales taxes from Castile and the Netherlands,
Spain's tax base, was too narrow to support Philip's plans.
became increasingly dependent on loans from foreign bankers,
particularly in Genoa and Augsburg.
By the end of his reign, interest payments
on these loans alone accounted for 40% of state revenue.
Philip's foreign policies were determined by a combination of
Catholic fervour and dynastic self-interest. He considered himself
by default the chief defender of Catholic Europe, both against the
and against the forces
of the Protestant
. He never relented from his war against what he
regarded as heresy
, preferring to fight on
every front at whatever cost rather than countenance freedom of
worship within his territories. These territories included his
patrimony in the Netherlands, where Protestantism had taken deep
root. Following the Revolt of
in 1568, Philip waged a bitter campaign against
Dutch heresy and secession. It dragged in the English and the French and
expanded into the German Rhineland, with the devastating Cologne War and lasted for the rest of his life.
In 1588 the English defeated Philip's Spanish Armada
, thwarting his planned
invasion of the country. But the war would continue for the next
sixteen years, and itself be linked to a complex series of
struggles that included France, Ireland and the main battle zone,
the Low Countries
. It would not end
until all the leading protagonists, including himself, had passed
away. Earlier, however, after several setbacks in
his reign and especially that of his father, Philip did achieve a
decisive victory against the Turks at the Lepanto in 1571, with the allied fleet of the Holy League, which he had put under the
command of his illegitimate brother, John of Austria.
He also successfully
secured his succession to the throne of Portugal
Flag of Spain under Philip II.
In the early part of his reign Philip was concerned with the rising
power of the Ottoman Empire under Suleiman the Magnificent. Fear of
Islamic domination in the Mediterranean caused him to pursue an
aggressive foreign policy.
Turkish admiral Piyale Pasha captured
Islands, especially inflicting great damage on Minorca and enslaving many, while raiding the coasts of the
Philip appealed to the Pope and other
powers in Europe to bring an end to the rising Ottoman
threat. Since his father's
losses against the Ottomans and against Barbarossa Hayreddin Pasha in
1541, the major European sea powers in the Mediterranean, namely
Spain and Venice, became
hesitant in confronting the Ottomans.
The myth of "Turkish
invincibility" was becoming a popular story, causing fear and panic
among the people.
Philip II organized a Holy League between Spain and the
Venice, the Republic of
Genoa, the Papal
States, the Duchy of Savoy
and the Knights of Malta.
fleet was assembled at Messina and consisted of 200 ships (60 galleys and 140
other vessels) carrying a total of 30,000 soldiers under the
command of Giovanni Andrea
Doria, nephew of the famous Genoese admiral Andrea Doria.
March 1560, the Holy League captured the island of Djerba which had a
strategic location and could control the sea routes between
Algiers and Tripoli.
As a response, Suleiman the Magnificent
sent an Ottoman fleet of
120 ships under the command of Piyale
, which arrived at Djerba on 9 May 1560. The battle lasted
until 14 May 1560, and the forces of Piyale Pasha and Turgut Reis
(who joined Piyale Pasha on the
third day of the battle) had an overwhelming victory at the
Battle of Djerba
. The Holy League
lost 60 ships (30 galleys) and 20,000 men, and Giovanni Andrea
Doria could barely escape with a small vessel. The Ottomans retook
the Fortress of Djerba, whose Spanish commander, D. Alvaro de
Sande, attempted to escape with a ship but was followed and
eventually captured by Turgut Reis
1565 the Ottomans sent a large expedition
, which laid siege to several forts on the island,
taking some of them. The Spanish sent a small relief force, which
drove the Ottoman army, exhausted from a long siege, away from the
threat posed by the increasing Ottoman domination of the
Mediterranean was reversed in one of history's most decisive
battles, with the destruction of nearly the entire Ottoman fleet at
the Battle of
Lepanto in 1571, by the Holy League under the command of
Philip's half brother, Don Juan of
A fleet sent by Philip, again commanded by Don
John, reconquered Tunis from the Ottomans in 1573. However, the Turks
soon rebuilt their fleet and in 1574 Uluç Ali
Reis managed to recapture Tunis with a force
of 250 galleys and a siege which lasted 40 days.
Lepanto marked a permanent reversal in the balance of naval power
in the Mediterranean and the end of the threat of complete Ottoman
control of that sea.
In 1585 a peace treaty was signed with the Ottomans.
Revolt in the Netherlands
Philip's rule in the seventeen separate provinces known
collectively as the Netherlands faced many difficulties; this led
to open warfare in 1568.
Philip insisted on direct control over events in the Netherlands
despite being over a fortnight ride away in Madrid. There was
discontent in the Netherlands about Philip's taxation demands. In
1566, Protestant preachers sparked anti-clerical riots known as the
; in response to growing heresy, the Duke of Alba's army
went offensive, further alienating the local aristocracy.
In 1572 a
prominent member of the Dutch aristocracy, William the Silent, invaded the
Netherlands, but he only succeeded in holding two provinces,
Holland and Zeeland.
of the Dutch provinces, united in the 1579 Union of Utrecht
, passed an Act of Abjuration
declaring that they no
longer recognized Philip as their king. The southern Netherlands
(what is now Belgium and Luxembourg) remained under Spanish
The rebel leader, Prince of Orange
(William the Silent) was assassinated in 1584 by Balthasar Gérard,
after Philip had offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who
killed him, calling him a "pest on the whole of Christianity and
the enemy of the human race".
The Dutch forces continued to fight on under Orange's son Maurice of Nassau
, who received help from
Queen Elizabeth I
in 1585. The
Dutch gained an advantage over the Spanish due to their growing
economic strength, in contrast to Philip's burgeoning economic
King of Portugal
Relations with England and Ireland
King of England and Ireland
Philip and Mary I of England.
Philip's father arranged his marriage to 37-year old Queen Mary I of England
. In order to elevate
Philip to Mary's rank, his father ceded the crown of Naples, as
well as his claim to the Kingdom of
, to him.
marriage at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 took place just two days after
their first meeting.
Philip's view of the affair was
entirely political. Lord Chancellor Gardiner and the House of
Commons petitioned Mary to consider marrying an Englishman,
fearing that England would be relegated to a dependency of
This fear may have arisen from the fact that Mary was
– excluding the brief, unsuccessful and controversial reigns of
Jane and Empress Matilda
first queen regnant
Under the terms of the marriage treaty, Philip was to enjoy Mary
I's titles and honours for as long as their marriage should last.
All official documents, including Acts
, were to be dated with both their names, and
Parliament was to be called under the joint authority of the
couple. Coins were also to show the heads of both Mary and Philip.
The marriage treaty also provided that England would not be obliged
to provide military support to Philip's father in any war. The
Privy Council instructed that Philip and Mary should be joint
signatories of royal documents, and this was enacted by an Act of
Parliament, which gave him the title of king and stated that he
"shall aid her Highness ... in the happy administration of her
Grace’s realms and dominions." In other words, Philip was to
co-reign with his wife. As the new King of England could not read
English, it was ordered that a note of all matters of state should
be made in Latin or Spanish.
Acts which made it high treason to deny Philip's royal authority
were passed in Ireland and England. Philip and Mary appeared on
coins together, with a single crown suspended between them as a
symbol of joint reign. The Great Seal shows Philip and Mary seated
on thrones, holding the crown together. The coat of arms of England
with Philip's to denote their joint reign.
Philip's wife had succeeded to the Kingdom of Ireland, but the
title of King of Ireland was assumed by Henry VIII after he was
excommunicated. In 1555, Pope Paul IV
issued a papal bull
and Mary as rightful King and Queen of Ireland. Their joint royal
style after Philip ascended the Spanish throne in 1556 was:
Philip and Mary, by the Grace of God King and Queen of England,
Spain, France, Jerusalem, both the Sicilies and Ireland, Defenders
of the Faith, Archdukes of Austria, Dukes of Burgundy, Milan and
Brabant, Counts of Habsburg, Flanders and Tirol
However, they had no children; Queen Mary I, or "Bloody Mary" as
she came to be known in English Protestant lore, died in 1558
before the union could revitalize the Roman Catholic Church in
England. With her death, Philip lost his rights to the English
throne and ceased being King of England and Ireland.
King's County and Philipstown were named after him.
After Mary I's death
Upon Mary's death, the throne went to Elizabeth
I. Philip had no wish to
sever his tie with England, and had sent a proposal of marriage to
Elizabeth. However, she delayed in answering, and in that time
learned Philip was also considering a Valois
alliance. Elizabeth was the
Protestant daughter of Henry VIII and Anne
. This union was deemed illegitimate by English Catholics
who did not recognize Henry's divorce and who claimed that Mary I, Queen of Scots
, the Catholic
great granddaughter of Henry
, was the legitimate heir to the throne.
For many years Philip maintained peace with England, and had even
defended Elizabeth from the Pope's threat of excommunication. This
was a measure taken to preserve a European balance of power.
Ultimately, Elizabeth allied England with the Protestant rebels in
the Netherlands. Further, English ships began a policy of piracy
against Spanish trade and threatened to plunder the great Spanish
treasure ships coming from the new world. English ships went so far
as to attack a Spanish port. The last straw for Philip was the
Treaty of Nonsuch
Elizabeth in 1585 - promising troops and supplies to the rebels.
Although it can be argued this English action was the result of
Philip's Treaty of Joinville with the Catholic League of France,
Philip considered it an act of war by England.
The execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587 ended Philip's hopes
of placing a Catholic on the English throne. He turned instead to
more direct plans to invade England, with vague plans to return
England to Catholicism. In 1588, he sent a fleet, the Spanish Armada
, to rendezvous with the
Duke of Parma
army and convey it across the English Channel. However, the
operation had little chance of success from the beginning, due to
lengthy delays, lack of communication between Philip II and his two
commanders and the lack of a deep bay for the fleet. There was a
tightly fought battle against the English navy; it was by no means
a slaughter, but the Spanish were forced into a disastrous
Eventually, three more Armadas were assembled; two were sent to
England in 1596 and 1597, but both also failed; the third (1599)
was diverted to the Azores and Canary Islands to fend off raids.
This Anglo-Spanish War
(1585-1604) would be fought to a grinding end, but not until both
Philip II (d. 1598) and Elizabeth I (d. 1603) were dead.
The defeat of the Spanish Armada gave great heart to the Protestant
cause across Europe. The storm that smashed the retreating armada
was seen by many of Philip's enemies as a sign of the will of God.
Many Spaniards blamed the admiral of the armada for its failure,
but Philip, despite his complaint that he had sent his ships to
fight the English, not the elements, was not among them. A year
later, Philip remarked:
The Spanish navy was rebuilt, and intelligence networks were
improved. A measure of the character of Philip can be gathered by
the fact that he personally saw to it that the wounded men of the
Armada were treated and received pensions, and that the families of
those who died were compensated for their loss, which was highly
unusual for the time.
While the invasion had been averted, England was unable to take
advantage of this success. An attempt to use her newfound advantage
at sea with a counter armada
following year failed disastrously. Likewise, English buccaneering
and attempts to seize territories in the Caribbean were defeated by
Spain's rebuilt navy and her improved intelligence networks
(although Cadiz was destroyed by an Anglo-Dutch force after a
failed attempt to seize the treasure fleet.)
Even though Philip was bankrupt by 1596 (for the fourth time, after
France had declared war on Spain), in the last decade of his life,
more silver and gold were shipped safely to Spain than ever before.
This allowed Spain to continue its military efforts, but led to an
increased dependency on the precious metals and jewels.
War with France
From 1590 to 1598, Philip was also at war against Henry IV of France
, joining with the
Papacy and the Duke of Guise in the Catholic League
during the French Wars of Religion
interventions in the fighting - sending Alessandro Farnese
, to end
Henry IV's siege of Paris
1590 – and the siege of Rouen
in 1592 - saving the French Catholic Leagues's cause against a
Protestant French monarchy. In 1593, Henry agreed to convert to
Catholicism; weary of war, most French Catholics switched to his
side against the hardline core of the Catholic League, who were
portrayed by Henry's propagandists as puppets of a foreign monarch,
Philip. In June 1595 the redoubtable French king defeated the
Spanish-supported Catholic League in Fontaine-Française in Burgundy
and reconquered Amiens from the overstretched Spanish forces in
September 1597. The 1598 Treaty of
was largely a restatement of the 1559 Peace of
Câteau-Cambrésis and Spanish forces and subsidies were withdrawn;
meanwhile, Henry issued the Edict of
, which offered a high degree of religious toleration for
French Protestants. The military interventions in France thus ended
in an ironic fashion for Philip: they had failed to oust Henry from
the throne or suppress Protestantism in France and yet they had
played a decisive part in helping the French Catholic cause gain
the conversion of Henry, ensuring that Catholicism would remain
France's official and majority faith - matters of paramount
importance for the devoutly Catholic Spanish king.
died in El
Escorial in September
Under Philip II, Spain reached the peak of its power. However, in
spite of the great and increasing quantities of gold flowing into
his coffers from the American mines, the riches of the Portuguese
spice trade and the enthusiastic support of the Habsburg dominions
for the Counter-Reformation
would never succeed in suppressing Protestantism or defeating the
Dutch rebellion. Early in his reign, the Dutch might have laid down
their weapons if he had desisted in trying to suppress
Protestantism, but his devotion to Catholicism and the principle of
cuius regio, eius religio
as laid down by his father, would not permit him to do so. He was a
devout Catholic and exhibited the typical 16th century disdain for
One of the long-term consequences of his striving to enforce
Catholic orthodoxy through an intensification of the Inquisition
was the gradual smothering
of Spain's intellectual life. Students were barred from studying
elsewhere and books printed by Spaniards outside the kingdom were
banned. Even a highly respected churchman like Archbishop Carranza,
was jailed by the Inquisition for seventeen years for publishing
ideas that seemed sympathetic in some degree to Protestant
reformism. Such strict enforcement of orthodox belief was
successful and Spain avoided the religiously inspired strife
tearing apart other European dominions, but this came at a heavy
price in the long run, as her great academic institutions were
reduced to second rate status under Philip's successors.
Being the most powerful European monarch at a time full of war, and
religious conflicts, evaluating the reign of Philip II and the king
himself has become a controversial history subject. Even before his
death in 1598, his supporters had started presenting him as an
archetypical gentleman, full of piety and Christian virtues,
whereas his enemies depicted him as a fanatical and despotic
monster, keen to inhuman cruelties and barbarism. This dichotomy,
further developed into the so-called Spanish White Legend
, was favoured by king Philip himself by prohibiting any
biographical account of his life to be published while he was
alive, and by ordering all his private correspondence to be burned
shortly before he died. Moreover, after being betrayed by his
secretary Antonio Perez
, and when news
reached Spain of Perez's incredible calumnies against his former
master, Philip did nothing to defend himself, thus letting Perez's
tales spread all around Europe. That way, the main image of the
king that survives till nowadays was created on the eve of his
death, at a time when most European countries were turned against
Spain, thus usually depicting Philip from prejudiced points of
views, either positive or negative. Although some efforts have been made to
separate legend from reality, that task has been proven to be
extremely hard, since many prejudices are rooted in the cultural
heritage of European countries, and while Spanish-speaking
historians tend to assess his political and military achievements,
sometimes deliberately avoiding issues such as the king's
lukewarmness (or even support) towards Catholic fanaticism,
English-speaking historians tend to show Philip II as a fanatical,
despotical, criminal, imperialist monster, minimizing his military
victories (Battle of Lepanto, Battle of
Saint Quentin,...) to mere anecdotes, and magnifying his
defeats (namely, Invincible
Armada, even though at the time those defeats did not result in
great political or military changes in the balance of power in
Moreover, it has been noted that objectively
assessing Philip's reign would suppose to re-analyze the reign of
his greatest opposers, namely Queen Elizabeth I
and William the Silent
, that are popularly
regarded as great heroes in their home nations; if Philip II is to
be shown to the English or Dutch public in a more favorable light,
Elizabeth and William would lose their cold-blooded, fanatical
enemy, thus decreasing their own patriotic accomplishments.
In an example of popular culture, Philip II appears in Fire Over England
, a well known 1937
historical drama. Breaking with British artistic tradition, the
portrayal of the former king-consort of England is not entirely
unsympathetic. He is shown as a very hard working, intelligent,
religious, but somewhat paranoid ruler whose prime concern is his
country. As he orders the Armada to sail to its doom he admits to
having no understanding of the English.
Philip II's reign can hardly be characterized by its failures. He
ended French Valois ambitions in Italy and brought about the
Habsburg ascendency in Europe. He commenced settlements in the Philippines and established the first trans-Pacific trade route
between America and Asia.
He secured the Portuguese kingdom
and empire. He succeeded in massively increasing the importation of
silver in the face of English, Dutch and French privateers,
overcoming multiple financial crises and consolidating Spain's
overseas empire. Although clashes would be ongoing, he ended the
major threat posed to Europe by the Ottoman navy. He dealt
successfully with a crisis that threatened to lead to the secession
of Aragon. Finally, his efforts contributed substantially to the
long term success of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in checking
the religious tide of Protestantism in Europe.
Philip was married four times and had children with three of his
wives. Even so, most of his children died young.
Philip's first wife was his double first cousin, Maria Manuela, Princess of
; she was daughter of John III of Portugal
and Catherine of Habsburg
. The marriage
produced one son, at whose birth Maria died.
Philip's second wife was his first cousin once removed, Queen
Mary I of England
. Mary was
significantly older than Philip, and the marriage was political. By
this marriage, Philip became jure
uxoris King of
, but the marriage produced no children and Mary died in
Philip's third wife was Elisabeth of
, the eldest daughter of Henry II of France
and Catherine de' Medici
. Their marriage
produced five children. Elisabeth died hours after a miscarriage.
Their children were:
Philip's fourth and final wife was Anna of Austria
, who was
also his niece. This marriage produced four sons and a daughter.
This marriage would be the first of three uncle-niece marriages
that would be in the pedigree of the great grandson of Philip II,
Charles II of Spain
genetically caused diseases would end the Hapsburg line in Spain.
Their children were:
- Ferdinand, Prince of
Asturias: 4 December 1571 – 18 October 1578, died young
- Carlos Lorenzo: 12 August 1573 – 30 June 1575, died young
- Diego, Prince of
Asturias: 15 August 1575 – 21 November 1582, died young
- Philip: 3 April 1578 – 31
March 1621 (future king, Philip III of Spain)
- Maria: 14
February 1580 – 5 August 1583, died young
Anglo-American societies have generally held a very low opinion of
Philip II. The traditional approach is perhaps epitomized by
's Ten Great Events
, in which he describes Philip II as a "vain,
bigoted, and ambitious" monarch who "had no scruples in regard to
means... placed freedom of thought under a ban, and put an end to
the intellectual progress of the country". However, some historians
classify this anti-Spanish analysis as part of the Black Legend
The defense of the Catholic Church and the defeat of Protestantism
was one of his most important goals. Although he did not fully
accomplish this (England broke with Rome after the death of Mary,
the Holy Roman Empire remained partly Protestant and the revolt in
Holland continued) he prevented Protestantism from gaining a grip
in Spain and Portugal and the colonies in the New World, and
successfully re-established Catholicism in the reconquered southern
half of the Low Countries
Philip was an austere and intelligent statesman. He was given to
suspicion of members of his court, and was something of a
meddlesome manager; but he was not the cruel tyrant painted by his
opponents and subsequent Anglophile histories. He took great care
in administering his dominions, and was known to intervene
personally on behalf of the humblest of his subjects.
Philip II died in 1598. His was a painful death which involved a
severe attack of gout, fever and dropsy. He died in El Escorial, near Madrid, and was succeeded by his son Philip III. The Philippines, a former Spanish colony, is named in his
- Rodriguez-Salgado, M.J. "The Court of Philip II of Spain". In
Princes Patronage and the Nobility: The Court at the Beginning
of the Modern Age, cc. 1450-1650. Edited by Ronald G.
Asch and Adolf M. Birke. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.